Sunday, December 25, 2011

Issue Nineteen, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor.

     Hello and merry holidays bibliophiles! Due to a high traffic of family errands and issues today the new Larks Fiction Magazine will update tomorrow afternoon. Check our Twitter page for more information and updates. Also I will be checking and reviewing submissions all next week so expect to hear from me soon if you haven't already.

     Check back here later for the tale of "Santa's Slaying Song; Path to Vengeance"!

12/30/11 Update--I am still working on a few things and editing issues out. We should be up and running soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Issue Eighteen, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor,
Welcome to Issue Eighteen, Volume Two of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are featuring two stories of otherworldly magic and wonder pulling at the seams of reality.

Just an update—we are backed up here on submissions. We plan on answering every email by December 30th. If you haven’t heard back from us by then please inquiry about your submission.

And if you are looking for more great fiction and like the Elder Scrolls video games check this short piece on Kotaku.

Also coming soon will be the Concerning Fiction vlog on Youtube where I will be talking shop about writing, editing, and fiction in general.

Yours
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor


A Shadow of Restraint
By Damie Ayirakaz

He sat in the car, hunched down a bit in his chair, studying the fragile woman as she looked up at the corner, perhaps swayed by a sudden premonition.  The man slid further down in his chair, afraid that their eyes might meet and that she might notice him.


I watched him.  I watched him watching her while all the time overhearing the vile stream of desires and plans rumbling through his restless mind.  At first, the ideas were a random stream of poorly organized words, often interrupted by the meager remnant of humanity that still haunted his thoughts.  His pity, his sense of right and wrong, were almost as illusory as the form I took next to him on other days, as he walked through streets and other inhabited places.

A shadow is a wispy thing, a creature with the lifespan of a sunny day.  At the end of every day, as the last few spears of sunlight begin to fade, it miserably but resolutely faces the dying of each day. 

It was the only life I’d ever known and I'd grown to appreciate my fleeting moments under the blue skies.

But, over the years, as I grew to know and understand the human creature who I accompanied, my sense of hope and of peace began slowly to fade.

From his early childhood, Franklin Petrovsky had been a troubled boy.   My first worrisome memory was on a playground somewhere in a different place, where there was sunlight in abundance and children seemed so innocent and loving.  Franklin's thoughts had not yet become coherent enough to give him away and he still seemed like the other children, though maybe just a bit less boisterous.

On that day, as was later to become his custom, he sat off to one corner of the noisy crowd of children, staring at one of the others, feeling nothing but a hungry craving to take something for himself.  It never  really concerned him that it wasn't his and that someone else might love it just as much.  Of course, the object of his covetous heart was nothing more at the time than a child's plaything, a pencil sharpener in the shape of a skyscraper.  But, from his first moment seeing it, he'd hardly thought of anything else and had quickly decided that he would take it as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

So, on that bright afternoon when I should have been grateful for another light-filled moment under the sun, I remember instead feeling a persisting sense of hopelessness about Franklins newly hatched plan.  Though I didn't understand it just then, what I was later to realize was that it wasn't the act of theft itself that worried me so much about Franklin.  What bothered me more was the vague sense that something was missing in him, something that portended much worse for the days that lay ahead of his childhood.

When the little blonde girl turned her back on the small previous trinket that she'd lain in a corner on the ground, Franklin waited for her to join the other children and the quickly seized the moment.  As she turned and walked off, he ran over to the spot and greedily scooped up the eraser into his eager hands.  While she played and laughed, he stared at his newly acquired prize, empowered by his success and mesmerized by the glittering beauty of the tiny prize. It was in those first few seconds after acting on his carefully crafted plan, that I learned something about myself as well.  As he tried to enjoy the success of that moment, something made him pause.  More than the fear that one of the playing children might turn their eyes from their games and realize what had happened, something else stirred feelings of discomfort in his mind.

On that day, I first realized that Franklin and I were not completely divorced from each other in our thoughts.  Seeing him act so coldly and with such malice, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and suffering spreading out from my dark form and spilling out onto Franklin and further out even onto the children as they raced around on the playground. 

In that second, Franklin felt what I felt, though only in a washed out form.  He hesitated, lingering in the background as the children played, his feet planted to the concrete, even as he noticed a finger pointing at him and a shrill voice screaming out.  As he raced away, he dropped the metal prize to the floor, confused that his plan hadn't worked out completely as he'd expected.

Years passed on quickly from that first moment, as I tried again and again to reclaim any joy I could find in between fitful periods of ordinariness.  I watched Franklin in the same way that he watched others, completely bent on trying to keep him from acting on his impulses.  Instead of enjoying the bounty offered by the rich light of the sun, I spent my thoughts and energies on keeping Franklin from exploding.  Time and time again, I bent my entire will,  my every effort, on stopping him.

But, the years had been exhausting and I could feel my hold on him waning. With my grip loosening, his thoughts grew uglier every day, as he looked out at the people of the world like he once did at the small metal sharpener.  He didn’t care to interact with them or to get to know them; he simply wanted them to serve his cravings.

As I watched him studying the small, blonde woman, limping as she walked a tiny, white dog, I knew that there was no time left.  Thoughts that had once been vague and mortified, now coalesced into the firmness of cold steel without any doubt or any fear.  As he stepped out of his car, I felt the rage inside of him explode in his chest and I knew that Franklin had finally been transformed into the evil creature he'd always seemed destined to become.

Before she could understand what was happening, he tightened his fingers around her tender wrist as he clamped his other hand over her mouth.  As he started pulling her into the dark domain of shadows under the cover of tree branches, I sensed that I had only a few seconds to act under the power of the light.  With a scream born of the frustration thousands of daily deaths and thousands of days lost to this monster, my silent screams tore into a world that couldn't hear me, but that could sense my anguish.  Just as Franklin reached the border between light and darkness, his feet stopped.

His hand fell slightly from her mouth and she began screaming out into the empty field.  Startled, he tightened his hold, preparing again to act.  But, I would have no more of this powerlessness, no more of a life shared with such a demon.  Allowing myself to bathe in the hidden power of the sunlight, I reached out to the creator of existence, suddenly resolving that Franklin must never again be given the chance to spoil the brittle beauty of an unwary world.

"Enough!"  I screamed out, spreading my dark shadow beyond its usual bounds, enveloping the two humans in a deluge of night powered by the day.  His hands dropped and he and the woman fell to the ground.  With a tremendous effort, I focused all the waves of intent on him, freeing her from the bonds of my shadow.  Quickly realizing that she ‘d somehow miraculously gained her freedom, she ran off screaming, followed by the small dog with the leash trailing behind him.

"Let me go," he begged, trying to reason with the force he'd long suspected had been holding him back from living his visions.

"No!" I screamed, squeezing tighter, knowing that there was only one way for this matter to finally end.  Without Franklin, I would stop existing.  I would no longer be able to bathe in the beauty of a world touched by such majesty and luminescence.  But, I'd also be free, finally, finally free of the fear and the horror of being married to such a creature.

Propelled by a need to finish what I'd started, I allowed myself to explode outward, clamping on the waves of dark particles and focusing them back into Franklin's anguished form, allowing him to see finally that there was a price to be paid for choosing to embrace his awful desires.  As he began to fall, I squeezed tighter and tighter, not stopping even after he dropped into unconsciousness.  I finally saw it, the final light of life still flickering in his soul. With one final burst, I aimed my own dying energies at that final vestige of life, watching as the light shivered and then gave out, in just the same moment as I felt my own final death arrive.

The End

About the Author:
Damie Ayirakaz is a previously unpublished author.


Symptoms Persist
by Nikki J. North

“I'm being stalked by a carnival, my dear Mrs. Johnson.  It's as simple as that.”

The IV drip swings gently, as if nodding, which is more acknowledgment than I'm getting from the woman in the bed.  I pause, leaning on the metal rail that separates us.

“And no, I don't know how crazy that sounds.  It's not crazy because it's true and true things can't be crazy.  True things can only be true.”  Mrs. Johnson seems unconvinced by my logic.  This could be due to the fact that she's been in a coma for two months, or more likely - because she wants to be convinced.  Like the time my cousin Larry wanted to be convinced that letting me cut chunks of hair off his dog, Crowley, and super glue them to his face would make him turn into Wolverine.  Or the time my mom wanted to be convinced that a seventeen year old boy was looking at pictures of botanical curiosities under his bed covers at one-thirty in the morning.  People want to believe.  I pull a pin, lowering the rail so that I can reach over Mrs. Johnson's hip.

“It's like the how people wake up from comas all the time.  Or how you're taller in the morning than at night - learned that one in class yesterday.  Or how zero divided by zero is anything.”  I say the last bit knowingly, like a wise old sage, or sherpa tucked away at the top of a mountain, even though it's tied my brain into a pretzel ever since I heard it while browsing through a  Piratical Cats calendar at the Words n' Stuff bookstore.  Rearranging the pillow that keeps Mrs. Johnson on her side, preventing bed sores the size of pancakes from forming on her shoulder and hip, I sense her interest in the way her hand flops on mine, so I lay it all out for her.

“In class teachers ask these questions, you know?  How would chromyl chloride be synthesized?  Who discovered the country of Brazil?  Why did people in early civilizations transition from hunter-gatherers to agricultural subsistence models?  And the thing is, they expect answers to these questions.  They expect answers and interest and attention and possibly, sadistically, some form of active participation.”      A sloppy physical therapy tech has left Mrs. Johnson's right leg on top of her left when she likes it bent forward.  I lift the blanket to reposition it. “ But how can I answer them when Miriam Coronado's Bio textbook, so big an emperor could be buried in it, is floating off the desk next to me?  How can I listen when Chris Carey's bag, an apple, a pencil, and Professor Thurston's stuffed owl are revolving in a circle above my head?  Could you watch a demonstration of the properties of magnesium with something like that going on?”

Mrs. Johnson expresses her sympathy for my plight by lying absolutely still, which is very considerate of her; after all, she's got problems of her own.  I straighten to leave, there's still Mr. Alph to get up and Mrs. Carey to check on before breakfast.  The joys of the double shift.  I yawn.  “I know what you're going to say - 'Robbie my boy, just do what it takes to get through this last year of med school.'  Or - 'Robbie, just because you're experiencing the manifestation of a crippling mental illness doesn't mean you can't do your best.'"  Someone has knocked over the picture of Mrs. Johnson's family again.  I position it next to the action shot of her son kicking the scoring goal in his senior high school soccer tournament, her husband looking into her eyes like he's seeing her for the first time, and Mrs. Johnson laughing into the camera with her arm around her daughter.

“I know that.  I do.  I'm just trying to weigh all the consequences, take in all the variables.  That's the responsible thing to do.  The doctor says the new stuff will allow me more control, but ...”  A red flag snaps in and out of my peripheral vision as I pull my hand from my pocket and stare down at the two white snakebites of medication in my palm.  “Their weight is so insubstantial.  It's hard to believe they're real.”  The tube in Mrs. Johnson throat prevents her from issuing what would surely be agreement.  “And when I swallow them it's hard to believe I'm real.”  The urge to rip the hideous plastic gag from Mrs. Johnson's mouth and let her speak, to hear words from the woman I've been caring for day after day, is almost overwhelming. 

“You understand.”  I nod at her.  “With them I'm … and without them ...”  I remember how it is without the medication, how it was all those months in high school before the diagnosis – the grades slipping, the friends driven away by strange behavior, the anxiety in my mother's face. 

“Why don't you come back Mrs. Johnson?  I know you're there. You can come back.”  The body on the bed remains a still lump of flesh.  I sigh.  “I'll give you my lucky fedora ...”  I tip the plaid hat back, revealing a high forehead.  “I think you would look quite fetching.”  Pausing at the door, I tip the fedora back down over my eyes with one finger.

“Alright, I'll be back in a couple of hours for our med date, darlin'.”

Placing the pills back in my pocket I stride down a hallway lined with wheelchairs.  My hand tightens as I walk past the bathroom, and I pause.  Before was bad, sure, but there's always a price to be paid … mostly I remember entering rooms and finding tufts of hair from the dancing bear on my seat.  I remember sitting on the ledge of a fountain and pulling a feather from my mouth.  The taste of it, like cotton candy and sawdust, still rests on my tongue.  And I remember riding my bicycle to class after work, the rushing lift of the Zipper tilting me into a black-puddle night.

***

It's my turn to get the coffee at first break this morning.  In line at the corner shop, I watch an apple green snake wind around a woman's shoulders.  It coils through the tattoos of teapots that decorate her skin, draping itself, like a scarf around her neck.  The sound it makes, as it extends its tongue at me, is a released-steam echo of the latte machine on the counter.  I am hypnotized by eyes that tell me all my futures until the clerk behind a faux granite counter snaps his finger in my face.

"You gonna order or what?"  People behind me mutter and shift.  The line is a question mark squished against the entrance.  I salute their angry faces with a finger to my hat.  The snake lady next to me shrugs and rubs a finger under the snake's chin. 

Exiting the shop, I pass a man in a suit, a pretty woman with a nose ring and blue, blue hair, and a man on a unicycle, the front wheel as tall as I am.  A woman in spangles leaps onto his shoulders.  I can see up the dress that springs from around her waist.  Even her panties have sequins on them.  Their shining aspect against the dark of her torso suggests that underneath that dress she goes on forever.  I want to climb up the bike, up her legs, up and up and into her; into the place where the sequins make their glittering, unconstrained home.  The place where, under her ribs, a twilight landscape has unfurled its undulating hills.  In a valley between those hills shines the light of rides that no one has ever heard of – The Diving Weightless Whirl and Step, Worlds a'Waitin, Exploratory Shark Immersion, the Dancing Taranchuaua, and the Mirrorless Magic Mirror House.  Rides to zip and rides to zag, rides to pull you inside out and rides to push your insides back in.  Rides to make you scream and laugh and make that soft “oh” sound a person really only makes three times in their life.  And in the middle of it all, the great striped tent.  You know if you could just get to that tent, if you could just lift aside the curtain, all the answers to all those questions the teachers ask and any question, asked and unasked, would be there, waiting.

A cab barks.  It bolts around me.  Landscape dissolves.  The white, foggy Aramanthia morning comes back into focus.

I am standing in the middle of a street as a city bus hurtles towards me, its headlights blinding.  Brakes are howling.

I try to calculate the distance from my outstretched hand to the bug-encrusted grill bearing down on me.  The sunlight glints off the front fender; its knife edge slices through my eyes.  From the ragged edge of light steps a shadow, like the shiver of a great, black dog.  Detail runs down the figure, becoming a fuzzy puddle at its feet.  Atop its head sits a hat, the only thing distinct about it. 

“Hello, Robert.”  The voice is grinding, like it’s made by gears, big as a city, moving together to lift some tremendous weight into the sky.

“Why, lucky me, a gentleman caller.” I bat my eyelashes at him.  “Go away.”  I try to stalk past, but remain frozen.

“What kind of greeting is that for an old friend?”

“Yeah, okay, then there, Mr, uh ...”

“Still haven't come up with a good name for me?”

“Unreasonably Scary Carnival Dude? Black Licorice? Lassie?” I shake my head. “No, nothing ever sounds sinister enough.  I think I figured out why you have the head of a wolf though.”

“Oh?” The sound is the polite expression of inquiry.  Oh, you didn't want any more tea?  Oh, you didn't want to see my collection of exotic bugs?  The impression of politeness is ruined by the tongue lolling from the side of its mouth.


“That was the last play I saw with my mom before the wreck, before the coma, before she died.”

A great sighing rumble shakes the world, vibrating it like a plucked string.

“Yes, indeed, Peter and the Wolf.  Lovely. Why don't you come with me, back to my office.  We can talk all about it.  And we can talk all about Mrs. Johnson.”  He steps back, outline vivid.  “I have something there, something I think you would be very interested in.”  Drops of light and time are immobile around him, crystal beads of universal matter.  “Do you want it?”

All I have to do is reach out.  All I have to do is follow him.  My hand clenches on the pills in my pocket.  The door of light twitches shut.  I am standing, panting, in front of a bus in the middle of downtown Aramanthia, cups of Cafe Mocha, No Foam Latte, and a Peppermint Tea cooling in my hands.

“The hell you doing?” a driver yells out his window, zipping past the bus.  On the bus one driver, seven passengers, and sixteen sets of eyes stare after me as I rush away.

***

By the time all the residents have been fed their over-salted, over-sugared, under-eaten meals, lunch is more pre-dinner than midday repast at the Sunbeam Treeview Home for the Age Enabled.  No one seems to notice, least of all the elderly residents of the nursing home's stale and hallowed halls.

"Mashed peas again today.”  Alex James pulls back a chair across from me and settles a tray of turkey with watery gravy, mashed peas, and orange juice in front of him.  “That's the third time this week.  I've a mind to talk to Lunch Lady about the sub-standard shit they serve around here.”

Alex has an aura of mystery about him that swiftly devolves into a cloud of charming incomprehensibility when conversations turn from any of his three favorite subjects – zombies, himself, and women with comically large breasts.  Over at the university I'd heard him described as “certainly individual” or “positively special” by the more tactful professors.  At the Home the descriptions most used by his contemporaries ranged from “scrumptious” to “asshole” depending on gender and time spent in company.  We started work here on the same day.  Our friendship was cemented when we found a set of matching fedoras left on bar stools at McGill's Bar and Grill down the street.  We've worked our shifts together ever since and wear our lucky fedoras every Tuesday, except for that one Tuesday we forgot them ... but we call that day Doom Tuesday and don't talk about it anymore.

I pop a chip into my mouth, watching as Alex raises his arms high above his head like a conductor.  In one hand is a knife, the other a fork. 

“Caroline decided not to eat again today?” I ask.

“Nope, too busy moaning on for her daughter.”
   
His hands descend in a dramatic slash.  Everything on his plate is mashed into a single pile.

When I don't respond with the usual chastising comment about eating the resident's food he looks up with a tilted eyebrow.

“What's the matter? ”

Quick, I think, distract him. “Your food pile looks like giant boobs!” I blurt out, perhaps a little too loudly as Mr. Howitzer, one table over, leans in to get a better look.

“Huh,” Alex appraises the two mounds he's made, “Indeed they do.”

That was close.  I slump a little in my plastic chair.

“It's back, isn't it?” he asks.

And there it is.  Just like that.  I flinch and swallow twice.

He leans forward, sighing in a way that suggests he should have a pipe clenched in his teeth. 

"You know, there are worse things to be stalked by."  He nods in the direction of Emily Morderline sitting alone at a table across the cafeteria.

Alex shovels a heaping spoon into his mouth.  I catch Emily looking back at us.  Her expression suggests that Alex is the last branch before a thundering waterfall or maybe the only source of oxygen aboard a rocket shot into space.  I wiggle my fingers at her in a clandestine wave.  She ducks her head.  I don't think it's so bad to need something to hold on to, and Emily has a big shovel of a smile that makes you want to smile back.  A monkey scampers past her, a small, red hat perched on its head.  I look away.

"Carnivals aren't so bad." Alex pauses to shovel another mouthful in, leaning an elbow on the table.  "It could be sharks, or used car salesmen, or zombies.  Zombies are the worst," he proclaims with authority.  "If there's an invasion or appo-polex or whatever, I'm going to that ranch in Nevada, the one with all them fancy lady birds."

I stare at him, monkeys momentarily forgotten.

"That's your zombie invasion plan?  A whore house in Nevada?"

"Well, I'm not plannin' on it happinen' now am I?  It’s more of a better to be safe than sorry, don't die without some crazy-end-days-do-it-like-lions-on-the-Serengeti sex kind of plan."  Alex leans back, leaving the spoon impaled and quivering in the middle of the mashed potato mountain on his plate.     

“I thought you were takin' the stuff the doctor gave you?”

I give a negative jerk of the head.  He stares at me, then tips back his fedora.

“How long?”

“Since the old ones stopped working.”

“And the new ones?”

“Quite comfortable in my pocket?”  I give him my best Garbo eyebrow waggle.

“Take them.”  He pushes a glass of water at me and watches with narrowed eyes as I pretend to swallow down the medication. “Come over tonight.  Shoot some pool?”  Over Alex's shoulder I can see a column of three monkeys wavering on top an empty table as a forth scrambles up them.

“Seven o' clock?” he persists.

I nod in absent agreement.  He pushes back from the table.  The monkey column goes tumbling; crying and screaming, they bounce and run.  One leaps onto the light fixture and, hanging upside down, grabs it with hands and feet, trying to yank it from the ceiling.  Another runs across the room.  Most jump up and down on the tables.  A smallish one jumps up on the table where Emily sits, watching Alex leave through the double doors at the other side of the room.  She slumps, shoves the remains of her lunch into her brown sack, and makes a wandering arc towards the door before approaching me.

“Hi.”

“Hey,” I reply.  I can see a small stain where pudding or jello hit her scrub top.  There is a pause big enough to swallow a galaxy.

“So I heard -”

“Do you -” We start at the same time.

I clear my throat. “Do you want him?  Alex?”  She bites her lip and tosses her short, black hair away from her face.  “Because if you do you should talk to him.”  Her hands clench on the brown bag.  I can tell she's about to leave.  The idea of her, sitting there, sitting there, sitting there, everyday, watching and doing nothing, frustrates me.  My voice freezes her.  “He likes zombie flicks.  Talk to him about that.  Especially Romero.  Look up some of the plots.  Tell him you saw it, and ask him if he can recommend more like it.  That should keep him busy all night if you can stand it.  He'll be at the Tired Cougar Pub tonight from seven.  Wear something -” My eyes flick covertly to the scrub top that hangs over breasts that are decidedly un-comical.  Maybe that was going too far.  “Just go in and buy him a drink.  Ask him about zombie flicks.” 

She looks at me, hesitant and fumbling. 

“Just do something, alright.”  My eyes are too intense.  I feel anger that comes from nowhere and is not for her.  “You can't just keep staring forever, like some dog looking at a bone.  Either move on or do something.  Don't let him decide for you, because you'll never be able to take that back.”  I sound harsh.  She flinches a little, a flush rising to her round cheeks, opens her mouth as if to say something, but instead turns and flees through the double doors.

I'm alone in the cafeteria.  The light is fading as the sun turns above, rays no longer reaching through the wall of windows that line the east side of the room.  I'm about to rise when a monkey gambols over the table and snatches my hat up from where it sits next to my tray.

“Hey,” I yell.  Mr. Wilson, the only other person left in the cafeteria, jerks awake from a doze that has placed his head precariously close to a large bowl of uneaten pudding.

“Hey,” he yells, in agreement or surprise.

“Go back to sleep Mr. Wilson,” I say.

I spend the rest of the afternoon chasing monkeys.  The one who grabbed the fedora has an especially malicious glint in his eye as he watches me brandish a broom handle at him from the middle of a supply closet.  He makes a gesture at me that is reminiscent of a kung fu challenge.

“You know I've named you Bobo, right?” I call out, as he pulls yet another ninja disappearing act, scampering out the door, baring his teeth at me and waving the hat in a teasing circle.  At five o' clock the beast pauses at the sliding entrance doors and raises the fedora towards his head.

“Don't. You. Even. Think -”

The miscreant primate places the hat on his head and displays a mouth full of white teeth.

It is only after another hour of chasing that I give up and trudge home, surprised to find that I am only two blocks away.

***
   
The clock above the sink ticks – two minutes past seven.  I tilt my hand and let all the pills from the orange bottle slip from my palm.  They bounce and clamor off the edges of the stainless steel like popcorn.  One by one they disappear down the throat of the drain.  Leaning against the edge of the counter, arms straight and tight, I breathe in and look out the kitchen window.  A striped tent is being erected in the empty lot behind my house.  At the top of its center pole, one long, red flag ripples in the wind like blood trailing from a puncture wound in the sky.  Beyond it, the lights of the tilting, swirling rides bob and streak through the night.

I step off the back porch, ignoring the stabs of pebbles and twigs.  I walk to the back fence that marks the boundary between my yard and the grassy, broken gravel that used to be a used car sales lot.  In the middle of the lot there's a tree that didn't exist before.  Burnt black shapes rest in its branches.  I hesitate, looking back at the facade of the house where I grew up.  Light blazes from the kitchen. Gravel crunches under my feet as I move away.

Reaching high to the lowest branch I snag a top hat from the tree's fingers.  I turn it over and over in my hands.  Stepping over a rusting tail pipe, a crumpled cigarette wrapper, and a Colorado license plate, I wind my way to the tent.  It seems that I walk miles before I can push rough canvas aside and wriggle my way through a loosely tied panel at the back of the tent.  Crowds of people line the inside, chatting and waving.  Kids eat popcorn; fire breathers entertain them.  Women tumble in fantastic leaps up and down stairs.  An unlit dirt ring meditates in the center, anticipating the caress of spotlight.  They're waiting. They've been waiting, but the ringmaster is nowhere in sight. 

I have his hat. 

With sure fingers I place it on my head, not surprised to find it fits perfectly.  I pause.  This is what I want.  Right?  Ahead, the spotlight blinks on.  Its path leads to Mrs. Johnson, sitting in the front row, smiling.  She looks just like she did in the picture with her daughter.  She's been waiting for me too.  The world settles and grows quiet.  I step into the ring.  Drawing in a deep breath I am ready to release the words that begin everything.

An anvil hits my chest, and air leaves me in a short squeak. Whatever oxygen is left in my lungs is expelled when I hit the ground on my back.  I lay there, looking up, trying to figure out why my bed is so lumpy and cold, before realizing I'm not in my bed and that it is definitely not Ms. April staring down at me.

“Sorry, man.”  Alex glares down at me.  He doesn't seem sorry at all.

“What the -”

“You didn't take them, did you?”  He doesn't wait for my response.  Straightening he grabs my hand and pulls me to my feet.  “So here you are, naked in the middle of vacant lot, shouting loud enough for the neighbors to have called the police, unresponsive to vocal stimuli ...” He seems to be running out of steam, breathing hard a couple of times.  I look around at the sad, rusted cars that seconds ago were cheering audience members. There's a broken piece of antenna clutched in my hand.  I gulp down a sudden, shocked sob.  A wash of shame strangles me.  Throwing the antenna away, I lean over, feeling that I might vomit.  Alex throws his jacket around my shaking shoulders.  He turns me toward the house, helping me take a stumbling first step.

“How did you know?”

He pulls something from his back pocket.

“You left this in the cafeteria.”  He places a crumpled wool shape in my hands.

“The monkeys took it,” I explain.

He just nods and steers me through the back door.  Inside he fills a glass with water and holds it out along with two white shapes.

“Please, Rob.”  His face is dead white.

I really take them this time.

He relaxes against the sink and leans forward to shove the fedora on my head.  He seems to consider it for a moment.

“Alright, let's go, I need a beer.”

“Okay with you if I put some clothes on first?”

“And deprive the ladies of the sight of your pasty white fish belly?” I ignore him and head up the stairs.     

“Just leaves more for me then.”  He calls out.

***

Alex orders two beers and leans against the bar.

“Now that we've managed to acquire libations, the other reason I came over -”

“You finally beat Mrs. Pac Man? “

“No.”

“You found the mystery smell in your car?”

“No.”

“You got inside of Lunch Lady's pants?”

“No, but I'm telling you, underneath that hair net and stupendous mole is a tiger just wait -”  He glances over at the bar tender who is pretending to clean a glass while clearly listening to every word.

“Uh, no.  It's Mrs. Johnson -”

A shiver climbs up my spine.

“She's dead, isn't she?”

“Dead? Nah, man, she woke up.”

I sputter, glaring at him. “This isn't going to be like the time you had Mr. Wilson stay really still and convinced me he was dead is it?”

“C'mon, you know I swore on my lucky fedora to never do that again.”

“She really woke up?”

“She really did.”

He raises his bottle.  I tap it, a smile pulling up the corner of my mouth.

“Doctor Handy told Mr. Johnson that it may be your fault.  You forgot her three o'clock meds,” Alex takes a solid drag of his beer then salutes me with it, “So you're fired.”  He eyes me over the bottle the way rescue workers watch a man on a window ledge.

“Damn those monkeys,” I say, grinning, happy for Mrs. Johnson, happy for myself.  Alex relaxes into his chair.  There is no flash of red hat, or swish of simian mischief in the dim bar.  My grin fades as I stare at the wet ring left by my beer on the wooden table.  Tracing the circle, I tilt my head, searching the moments of quiet between the sound of clinking glasses, laughter, and music for a booming voice calling out to me from the night.

The End
About the Author
Nikki J. North lives in the UK with her wonderful spousal unit.  When she isn't programming she likes to read, write, and knit a small, but growing, ninja monkey army.




Thank you for joining us again and I hope to see you all back here next Sunday for a very special Christmas Issue.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Issue Seventeen, Volume Two

            Hello and welcome to Issue Seventeen of Volume Two. This week we are featuring returning author and science fiction wizard Sean “Cowboy” Dodds.
            Make sure to check out the ElectricWindmill No. 3 for past Larks author Kevin Ridgeway and Jerry Guarino’s new book CafĂ© Stories.
            The week of Christmas to New Years I will be in and around the office—so I will responding to every submission by January.
            Thank for joining us and enjoy!
Yours,
Daniel J. Pool


The Magnificent Illusionary Circus
By Sean Dodds

Seamus McManagan adjusted his tie, always sure to maintain appearances, even when setting up the Magnificent Illusionary Circus. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a silk kerchief, surveying the progress of his work crews. Cargo spaceships descended from the reddish skies of Monocerotis’ seventh planet. The red giant’s glow created difficulty with the photogenic aspect of his show, but he would manage.
Seamus always did.
He hurried along and passed a transparent pressure tank, ignoring the growls of a Saturnian gas kite, one of the most voracious airborne predators in the known Galaxy. A hovercraft whizzed by, moving several containers full of projection equipment. Seamus mentally checked off each ship as it landed, extending huge landing struts that crushed the rusty-colored shrubbery of the field the Monocerotians had selected for him. Specially-lined, hexagonal tents were erected, topped with bright flags. Checking his watch, Seamus found he was almost six standard minutes late for his meeting with the local governor.
Fashionably late, he mused to himself. 
After taking a short ride on a jet-black (as black as black could be under a red sun) hover car, the driver opened the wood-lined door for Seamus to step out. A docent strode forward, blinking inner-eye lids over her multifaceted, black and shiny eyes. The insect woman elegantly glided towards him on four legs, extending her two dexterous forelimbs to greet Seamus. He flinched, for a moment. He did not like bugs, very much, and remembered crushing the lab cockroach when he was in high school. He sincerely hoped that incident had not gotten reported this far away from Earth, where cockroaches were seen only in museums. And Seamus could only thank God for that.
“Welcome to the Monocerotis Endax,” the insect host greeted him. Much to his inward revulsion, she placed both of her multi-barbed… fingers, Seamus supposed one could call them… on his faced gently and felt his skin, brow, and wavy blonde hair. He swallowed, doing his best to show no such apprehension. Remembering his manners, Seamus returned the gesture.
“Ah, yes… thank you,” Seamus responded, feeling her surprisingly soft face, careful to avoid the antennae, blackened eyes, and… proboscis. At least she was not a member of the Sendakkid, a rather large, arachnid species that reminded him of the extinct black widow spider he had seen in display cases at Dublin, back on Earth.
“My name is Kirri’tith tiridax ainaech, of the fourth colony, first hive,” she said with an unfurling of her delicate, black proboscis. Seamus could only interpret that as a smile. “You may call me Kirri.”
“Kirri. Right. Seamus McManagan. Pleased to meet you,” he said, recovering his charm and adjusted his green velvet collar. Sadly, the red sun did not do his fine tailoring justice, though it did add a wonderful hue to his gold claddagh ring. The sapphire heart caught Kirri’s eyes as it glinted, looking strangely like a ruby. Her wings flitted momentarily, revealing the mottled patterns of red outlined in a butterfly mosaic of black trim.
“Governor Xetor’rak chiramik gel’mik of the first colony, second hive, is waiting for you in his office,” she said in a honey sweet voice, as she glided slowly up the steps. She motioned for Seamus to follow. Doing so, he smoothed his hair back and flashed his devilishly charming grin he was so well known for.
“Sound as a pound, my good lady. And does the governor have a ...” He grinned, blinking in the red light. “... shorter name that I might call him by?” Seamus asked, admiring the swirling, hive-like architecture of the municipal building. He noticed a pair of guards, far more menacing and vaguely resembling camel spiders, guarding the door. They clutched ceremonial spears across their armored thoraxes. Seamus stopped to gawk at them for a moment, before the rotating of their eyes to him encouraged him to pick up his pace.
“Governor Xetor will do,” Kirri responded.
As Seamus entered the building, he caught one of the guards eyeing the abdomen of Kirri.
Well, that answers how that works on this planet, Seamus mused. Nevertheless, he decided, this was one planet where it was best to keep his hands in his pockets and his trousers firmly belted about his waist. After being led across the red, marble floors of the reception area, Kirri moved aside and motioned to a flexible door that resembling a large, reddish-gold leaf. Kirri bowed her arrowed head, motioning for Seamus to continue onward.
“The governor will see you, now,” Kirri said in her honeysweet voice. It seemed almost too sincere and songlike to Seamus. He was used to dealing with the more cutthroat business sapiens of the galaxy.
“Why thank you, lass,” Seamus said as he unbuttoned his sport jacket and shifted his silk, green tie which had soured to a dark red under the red giant’s rays.
Red… thank God we beat the English to green.
He came to the door and nearly slammed into it. Strangely, it did not respond to his presence by moving up, down, sideways, or whatever way was normal here on Monocerotis Endax. Kirri, apparently used to the quirks of non-insects, reached a long thin arm out and pushed the door aside for him to enter. Seamus smiled, amused with himself, and bowed gently to her.
“Ah, of course. I thank you my dear lass.”
No sooner had he entered than the red leaf door rustled shut behind him. His stony blue eyes, now a hue of red as well, were greeted with a slightly larger, more filled out version of Kirri sitting on a leaf-chair behind a wormwood desk. The creature stood up, bowing to Seamus. The circus conductor immediately fell into his routine.
“Ah, top ‘o the marnin’ to yeh’!” Seamus proclaimed in his most charming, sincere voice, despite sincerity being a quality he did not associate with himself. It was enough that others did. His Irish charm had been his ticket to success early on, though he was not even Irish. His mother was. Seamus only carried the name, the ring, and the luck. In fact, he had done most of his growing up on Tethys, one of Saturn’s moons. Now, he was the galaxy’s most prominent entertainer and circus owner. His pyrotechnics, fearsome and strange creatures, magicians, acrobats, and visual effects were known to almost every juvenile and adult sentient creature in the galaxy.
“Welcome, welcome Mr. Mikkermannigan,” Governor Xetor struggled to greet Seamus in English, again extending a proboscis as Kirri had. This one had a far more jittery disposition, and his antennae were in a constant state of movement. “Please, please, sit down.” Xetor motioned to another leaf chair and then sat, shuffling through datapads and flimsiplast sheets. Seamus glanced around the insect’s office as he took up the surprisingly comfortable seat. He smiled his approval and took no time in putting on his most cunning business charm.
“Mr. McManagan, Seamus McManagan – a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Seamus started off, immediately taking note of the rather enticing drink in a flower-shaped vase that looked strangely like a cross between blood, honey, and whiskey. If he did have anything Irish left in his blood, it was his taste of alcohol – in its finest or worst forms. He pulled one shoe up over his knee and remembered not to smoke around insects. “All the arrangements have been made on your behalf, Governor. I just want you to know that I’ve personally taken the time out of my busy schedule to see to it this will be the best, most qualitative experience your sensory organs have ever beheld.” He leaned his head forward, showing sincerity. “What did you say this show was for, again? A birthday or something?”
Governor Xetor curled his proboscis and narrowed his black, glassy eyes on Seamus, drumming his claws on the wormwood desk. Seamus could see the rapid rise and fall of Xetor’s carapace, indicating he was exasperated. That was when Seamus realized that they had no mouths, in the human sense of things. He wondered how it was they spoke English at all.
“A drink, Mr. Mikkermannigan?” Xetor said, snapping a claw towards the syrupy liquid in the flower vase.
“I wouldn’t mind a wee nip,” Seamus responded with a lavish grin. Xetor poured the both of them a healthy serving of the drink into two long, narrow vases with bulbs at the bottoms. Seamus waited to see how Xetor drank the liquid before giving it a try himself. Xetor unfurled his proboscis once more, inserting it into the glass and drawing the syrup up through the long neck. Seamus tilted the glass back, but it would not clear the bulb.
“A birthday? Not at all,” Xetor began, shaking his head. “No, certainly not. In fact it is our Grand Queen of all the Hives that will be visiting your show.” He shook his head again. “No, a birthday I should think not.” He stood up and flapped his wings once.
“I love the wormwood, if you’ll excuse the term,” Seamus said, running his hand over the lacquered surface of the executive desk.
“She only visits our continent on the most important of occasions, and has it within her power to command all food and material resources within the sector,” Xetor continued, as if he had not heard Seamus.
“Did you have it made?” Seamus asked.
“I only hope you live up to your reputation of stardom, I believe is the term, and impress the Grand Queen.”
“I think I’ll pick one up while I’m here.”
“Pick one of what up?” Xetor queried, flustered over the impertinency of Seamus’ comments.
“The table.”
“Table? Table?” Xetor responded, flapping his wings in a fit. “Have you heard anything I’ve said, Mr. Mikkermannigan?”
“McManagan.”
“What?”
Seamus shook his head and leaned back into his chair. He gave a casual waive of his hand.
“Not a birthday – yes,” he responded.
Xetor gave what Seamus could only interpret as a slump of his shoulders. He stroked his antennae furiously, clearly distraught over the situation. Seamus leaned the glass back further, nearly pushing the seat over backwards, and finally managed to drain some of the liquid from the vase’s bulb. For a moment, he said nothing as he felt the thickened, sugary liquid run down his throat. Xetor noticed his euphoria.
“Is it to your liking?” Xetor managed to say.
Seamus nodded his head slowly.
“Liking? This is bloody brilliant– the drink of the gods this is,” Seamus responded. Xetor bowed and sat back down in his chair, seeming somewhat resigned. Seamus sat the glass back down and crossed his hands on the table. “Look – I promise this – a Queen did’ga say? Now that’s a proud tradition. It’s a shame we did away with such civilities on Earth long ago. At any rate, she is gonna’ love this show.”
“I hope so, Mr. Mikkermannigan,” Xetor said, half-believing.
“An Irishman never lies, my good fellow,” Seamus said with a charming grin. “What you’re going to see tonight can only be explained as impossible. Only your eyes will remind you that what you see is all too real.”
He leaned back into his chair, folding his hands across his chest. The show was about to begin.


After the hexagonal stadium-sized tent had been erected, circus workers began ferrying in giant cages carrying some of the most unusual, beautiful, and fearsome creatures in the known galaxy. There were even some that only Seamus possessed. Huge tapestries, suspended by flowery vines, hung from the ceiling along the walls of the giant tent. Thousands of sentient beings funneled in from several main entrances. When the tent was filled, it would house over twenty thousand high-paying customers.
The various cargo ships he had brought along with him, in his little fleet, were directly hooked up to the tent. Boarding tubes of various sizes extended from the ships into the tent itself. Seamus declined any assistance from the Monocerotians to move freight or live animals. Such dangers had to be handled directly by circus staff or by Seamus himself, he insisted.
 Already, performers were setting up exhibits, high wires, and cages, while some of his acrobats were flirting with patrons that matched their own species, or at least closely resembled such. Muscular gymnasts and scantly-clothed dancers began stretching for their parts of the show. Musicians set up stage and prepared for the show. Everything was out in the open for the audience to see. Seamus always made it such. As for him, Seamus busied himself making small talk with the most well-to-do-looking of his audience. He handed out plastic business cards that changed images under various lights. It was never the same from one planet to the next. A small translator device, installed underneath his left lapel, identified the species he addressed and translated his words so that his alien clientele could communicate more comfortably with him. Seamus was an excellent lip-sync artist and few could note the half-second delay between words and mouth. 
At length, he took up his seat next to the lavishly-adorned Grand Queen, Li’tirrah, as she sipped at an even finer vintage of the same intoxicating, honeysweet syrup. It was the nectar of an indigenous flower, as Seamus had come to find out, fermented and aged in the hollowed-out stems of a Monocerotian equivalent of sugar cane. The queen, as Seamus took it, was exceptionally vibrant in coloration for her people. She had far more illustrious hues of red and far more prominent black lines that defined her various patterns throughout her wings and body. Being far more diplomatically savvy than her governor, who sat nervously to her left, Queen Li’tirrah offered Seamus a more manageable glass from which to drink the nectar.
Smiling devilishly, Seamus held his hand out, motioning for her to stop.
“Worry not, fine queen, I’ve come. Prepared,” Seamus said with a wink. Out from his pocket, which made her guard immediately nervous, he withdrew a long straw. Queen Li’tirrah unfurled her proboscis, nodding at him with approval. She personally handed a tall vase of the nectar to the human entertainer, eying him as he used what she interpreted as an artificial proboscis of his own.
“You are quite the colorful character,” the queen remarked, placing one of her claws on his arm gently. Seamus flashed a wry smile and observed his lighting crews finishing up the last of their work. His performers and creature handlers began to vanish from sight, taking up their places in hidden areas of the set. From his pocket, his communicator vibrated.
“Aye, what is it?” Seamus asked, doing his best to seem busy. In his mind, he was quite busy. He was drinking as much of this intoxicating nectar, free of charge, as he could.
“Lighting done, sir. We’re all ready down here,” a technician responded.
“Very well, seal off all doors and close the light vents,” Seamus responded as an even more lavish grin came over his smooth-shaven face.
“Roger.”
Seamus leaned back into the lavish leaf chair, stretching his hands and preparing for his own show to begin. With the audience nearly settled, the entrances closed and suddenly, all became dark. Remarks and calls of surprise echoed in the chamber. A soft clicking in the distance, a drummer slapping his sticks together, serenaded the start of an epic wave of music that began to fill the tent. Suddenly, a green glow filled the chamber. The audience exclaimed delight and awe. Seamus smiled to himself.
Now there was a fine color.
With each major progression of chords, another color was added, and another and another. Lasers and flood lights showered pink, red, blue, green, yellow, and orange lights across the audience. A huge orchestra sounded throughout the massive tent, as an incredible and awing laser and light show complimented their every note and beat. Colors began alternating, creating a discothèque feeling to the scene, as the first of the performers began running out onto the grassy field below. Acrobats and gymnasts alike began cart wheeling, flipping, and racing in front the audience, circling around the huge stadium floor. Fire-breathers shot flames out into the audience, stopping skillfully close of inflicting excessive discomfort save a few hats blown off a human family. His famous pyrotechnics began their magnanimous introduction, setting off airborne explosions that thundered high above in the huge dome. Cannons fired flying men, chased by blue spouts of fire that licked their heels ever so closely. A pack of blood wolves raced alongside a horse rider, setting up a snarling defensive circle around the trainer. Their red eyes smoldered for the audience. A series of reptilian birds were released from haloes of fire, racing across the dome which now became a sunset sky reminiscent of Earth’s African plains. The birds, each larger than a human, raced at high speed over the audience, just out of the audience’s reach as they gave out wild calls. Round and round they circled, smiling and showing razor sharp teeth that made children cower with awe. Seamus overheard the admiration and fear of an Aurigan patron, eying the blood wolves. With the lighting now resembling the whiter light native to Seamus’ Earth-eyes, he could see the incredible purples, oranges, reds, and blues of the queen’s incredibly colorful wings and body. It came as somewhat of a shock to him, but he reminded himself of the appearance of things as they reflected different lights. With his velvet green jacket back to normal again, he leaned towards the queen and pardoned himself from her presence.
“I’ve a show to tend to.” 
Straightening his jacket, he casually glided down the steps of the box seat to the floor gate. Passing through it, he activated the microphone embedded into his topmost button. The music came to a resounding silence as he held both hands up. Seamus, his grin never fading, cast his eyes over the huge audience.
“Welcome!” he greeted, pausing for ecstatic applause. Before they had completely subsided, Seamus continued. “Welcome to the greatest show you will ever know. I, Seamus McManagan, personally welcome you, female, male, hermaphrodites, and asexual beings, to the amazing – the Magnificent Illusionary Circus!”
More fireworks exploded over head, showering sparks of blue and deep purple glitter into the audience all around. A group of sky bike riders performed hand-stand tricks a hundred meters off the ground. Trainers moved huge, saurian-looking quadrupeds out onto the central area and several long-snouted Kulmarians breathed fire out towards the audience. The heat washed over their faces, but the fires fell short. Graceful women cart wheeled and back flipped, crossing over in front of Seamus as he eyed his creation with visible satisfaction. Ever charming, Seamus raised his hands up towards the dome’s ceiling. On cue, purple fires flashed and sprouted from his palms. A pair of pole vaulters sprang from the ground and soared directly into the fires. Catching each other, they spiraled round and round, somehow gaining elevation like the ancient gyrocopters of Earth. When it seemed they could raise no higher, the two acrobats grabbed hidden wires in the rafters. Swinging up upon them, they raised their hands to the applause of the audience. Before the thunderous applause could subside a decibel, they dove headlong into the ground. Gasps, from those that could tear their gazes from the aquatic, tentacled androphagopods that thrashed and snarled about their tanks, sounded as two circus workers rushed flat pools of water to where it seemed the vaulters would fall. No sooner had the pools arrived, than the vaulters struck the water which erupted into splashes of red. The audience shrieked, gasped, and applauded (as some of the carnivorous creatures found it stimulating). Smiling, the workers lifted both pools off the ground to reveal them as no larger than tambourines, which they began playing as such.
Suddenly, the music climaxed. On the final, magnanimous and thunderous note, all the entertainers froze in place. Even the seemingly wild creatures remained stonily still. All but Seamus.
He seemed to glide towards the audience, approaching them from every direction at once. The optical illusion only drew more applause and gasps, while insect patrons found very little disorienting about so many images at once. With thrums of music, the image settled out into the real Seamus McManagan. Great applause erupted as the audience gave him and his performers a standing ovation. He smiled knowingly.
            “I hope we have not bored you thus far,” Seamus said with a growing smile. The audience laughed, or generated whatever form of humored display was natural to the species. “Shall we leave now, and save you the heart ache of having to endure the real show?”
The audience responded with a laughing, but pleading “No” in dozens of different languages. Seamus chuckled in turn.
            “Are you absolutely certain? For I promise you – what comes now will forever change your world.”
            No audience could have refused the show or refute the reality, and Seamus basked in the fame and applause that rained upon him like a welcomed spring shower. Knowing when to pause and when to let the show continue was an art Seamus had mastered, and he had delayed long enough. Allowing his eyes to settle on that “ever so special” one person in the audience, he smiled at a young human girl in the front row.
            “Then let your dreams… begin.”
            Seamus seemed to fade away in a greenish vapor, and before the audience could focus on what was happening to him, the orchestra serenaded the oncoming of another wave of strange and dangerous creatures. Pyrotechnic teams ignited and extinguished rings of fire, plumes of flame, and signaled performers. Performers walked high wires and jumped down onto riding beasts below. Exotic birds continued to race around the arena, only centimeters out of reach for inquisitive patrons. Creatures were ushered away and gave way to sky riders. They pressed their machines beyond safe operation, performing incredible aerobatic tricks that left the audience stricken with wonder and surging with adrenaline.
            When it seemed that nothing could be any more breathtaking or rare than what came before it, Seamus introduced the graceful, mysterious malaika of Zenna, as they began to soar gracefully overhead. It was the first time the galactic public had ever seen the mythic creatures. As the lights nearly extinguished, save for a soft glow over the strumming orchestra, the angelic energy creatures illuminated the entire dome with rays of blues, purples, and bright white. The colors alternated, seeming to change with the each musical sound the malaika generated. Or was it the musicians? Only Seamus and his staff knew.  
            The malaika gently cruised around one last time, before merging together and creating one, larger manta. The light grew intense, drowning out all detail in the arena. When it seemed it could grow no brighter, the light showered into a cascading cloud of blue sparks that dissipated just above the audience. The orchestra then struck a faster tempo, introducing a war drum beat, welcoming the next segment of the show. Gladiatorial beasts, clad with shining and darkened armor, thundered out onto the field. Roars and hisses combined into an awesome noise, as four human warriors dressed in black robes strode out after the predatory creatures. The beasts set upon each other, roaring and shrieking, biting into steely armor and constricting around chain mail. It seemed that the four warriors had been pitted against one another in pairs, taking the sides of particular predators. The audience, already fallen into the rhythm of the awesome and the unusual, had not been prepared for such a spectacle. The battle reached a climax, and when the dust settled, several of the beasts and two of the warriors lay motionless upon the floor. The audience, many struck with concern and shock, murmured to each other. Suddenly, all the slain creatures and warriors stood up, and the entire group took their leave of the audience with bows and waives. The audience was relieved that it had not been actual violence (though some were disappointed), and gave loud exhales of relief and laughter. Applause thundered.  
            The background music suddenly increased tempo, becoming a complex symphony of metallic, botanical, horn, and electronic instruments all at once. What could only have been all the performers suddenly rushed out onto the arena floor. Some took the air on their sky bikes, while others began a breathtaking routine of acrobatics. Martial artists showed off their weapons handling techniques, and beast masters came to the front rows for all the audience to see their strange and wondrous, sometimes terrifying, creatures once more. Magicians cast smoky clouds across the edges of the arena. Flames sprouted from the mouths of dragon-like creatures. More birds swooped and circled about the arena, creating a dizzying cloud of winged creatures like a cave of infuriated bats. The sheer ambience of the place was overpowering. It was impossible to focus on any one part of the show. Just as the music reached an almost unmanageably fast beat, everything stopped. Three more resounding notes were played by various instruments, climactic in sound, and all the performers and creatures moved in rhythm. The last note was sounded, and the entire circus came to an epic stop. The lights faded out rapidly.
            Applause thundered out across the arena, vibrating the structure with enthusiastic commendation. A single white light shown down upon a lone man who strode towards the center podium of the arena’s floor. The occasional reflection of the light in a creature’s eye reminded the audience that the entire cast of circus performers and creatures were still there. The applause did not let up, even when Seamus motioned for silence. He smiled appreciatively, nodding at the audience several times and bowing. He motioned for silence once more, and the applause grudgingly faded.
            “Thank you! Thank you, my friends!” Seamus hailed the audience, which replied with more applause. He spoke over the din, relying on audio enhancers to carry his voice over. “Hours have passed, though it seem minutes. My only regret is that I must leave you now, for I have many shows and many worlds to visit. But rest assured, with you, goes my most sincere thanks. As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters always point the right way.”
            He winked and the lights went out.


           
            When the audience had all departed, beast and entertainer alike began moving off the main arena floor. Freight handlers prepared to move cargoes back into the cargo ships. The general noise created a great hustle and bustle. Seamus sat counting credit chits with a satisfied smile upon his face. A message sounded over his earpiece.
            “Sir, we’re all clear.”
            Seamus looked up from his counting and laid the credits down on the control table. He walked out onto the arena, observing his masterful creation with pride. He took a last look around the arena himself, though he knew his team had swept the arena for surveillance devices of any kind. Satisfied that everything was in order, he typed a single command into his computer pad.
            END PROGRAM.
            Every creature, every performer, and every piece of equipment except for the projectors, flickered and vanished into oblivion. The holographic projectors dimmed and shut off.
            Seamus smiled and walked towards the boarding ramp of a shuttle. His shoes clacked in the silence of the arena. His next stop was the capital world of Earth. Never was there a world where the need for illusion and pleasure greater.

The End

About the Author:
Sean Dodds, a native of the West Coast, has spent most of his life traveling and living throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. An admirer of classical and ancient literature, he has begun his efforts, at the age of twenty-three, to publish his own works of fiction. He draws inspiration from the works and advice of Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, professing himself a great fan of the DUNE universe. He runs a motorcycle riding group, loves fly fishing, racing sail boats, and SCUBA diving in the Red Sea.


D-117, Spark-Songs
By Daniel J. Pool

Water thrashed the windshield, the car’s gyroscope hummed, the lights of several panels danced, and its passengers sat bored.
            “Dude Roy, when will ya’ mom let you drive a real car with its own controls?” said a neon covered mat of hair and loose clothes.
            “You mean a square? Haha, and I bet you wipe your own butt too Ted, huh?” replied Roy, a lean ghostly boy from behind a mass of blue hair.
            “Yeah Ted, what’s with you and old crap?” pondered the short adolescent in a purple jump suit.
            “Shut up Tye, you don’t even got an automated car!” Roy fired back.
            “Boys shut its! All you ever do is argue, I’m so bored…” moaned the slender girl in the corner; picking at the sleeves of her lace and vinyl ensemble.
            Roy looked nervously around; Ted and Tye were expecting him to do something. Bringing Cerren back to Montoplis Park would ‘up’ their ‘cred’—to have a true North-Ender with them, and a cute one at that.
            “We could play truth or dare?” burst out Tye.
            “Whatever Tye, you just want to dare Cerren out of her clothes!” Roy complained.
            “So?” shrugged Tye.
            “No, I like it. It’s an old game, but it can be fun. I’ll go first… Truth or dare… Ted.” Cerren said with a sudden interest in her eyes.
            “Truth.” Ted swallowed hard.
            “Have you ever…? Ever… Done it?” asked the raven girl.
            “Like with somebody else?”
            “No deep crap, with your hand.” smirked Tye.
            “Haha.” Ted looked hard into nothing in particular.
            “Well, what is it-yes or no?” Roy  questioned
            “Well, umm…”
            “I will accept that as a no.” the skeletal girl replied with a hint of lose.
            “No wait, I think I have.” Ted said with sudden vigor.
            “You think? It is sort of oblivious if you have or not.” Tye said with obvious confusion.
            “Well, I mean it was dark, and she was…”
            “Was?” asked all three with sudden questioning eyes.
            “Was… plus sized.”
            “Gross, you slept with an illegal?!” Cerren was taken back.
            “She was only over by twenty pounds, hardly an illegal.”
            “What is the law now, forty pounds over?” Tye pondered with a dumb frown.
            “Yeah, any more and you must be getting more ‘fair’ treatment than others, so like then you’re a traitor to the state.” Roy blurted in the fashion of a professor.
            “Wow, look at brain-boy Roy, kind-of cute in a nerdy way.”
            Blushing, “Ha, thanks.”
            “Ok, knock it off you too, truth or dare Tye?” Ted announced with all the manners of a drunk.
            “Uh, dare.”
            Leaning close, he said, “Kiss Cerren.”
            “Oh, um, dude, I don’t about this.”
            “Come on bro, I dared you to.”
            “Yeah ‘bro’ come, make my day boy-o.’ she said while wearing her best come hither gaze.
            “See, she wants you to man.” Said Ted, padding Tye on the back.
            “Well, if she wants to.”
            Tye unbuckled his harness and walked slouched to Cerren, and opened his mouth. Their eyes closed, their lips puckered, and just a breath away Cerren kicked Tye square in the family jewels. Stumbling in the bouncing car, he was forced to fall onto the laps of his comrades.
            “What the frick?!” cursed and yelled the pain in his groin
            “Not funny!” Roy shouted, more out of surprise than anger.
            “I thought it was.” Crossing her arms, Cerren stared out of the grey-blue windows. The rain would crash at her face, but stop just before. The lights kept dancing.
            Once Tye had regain his composition he broke the silence that had wrapped the car, “Alright, alright—Roy truth or dare?”
            “Uh, I guess… dare.”
            “Call 9-1-1, and prank call that we’re in trouble.”
            “Yeah bro that would be great!”
            “I don’t know, don’t they trace that?”
“Nah. Any way it’s just a robot that picks up, who cares if you prank call a bot?”
Indecision loomed over Roy. If he called he could get in trouble, but the wanting eyes of his company told him to do it. The humming of the machinery thumped in his ears. The rain seemed to mock him as it bound down on the dome of the car.
“It would be pretty cool.” Cerren threw in. Fluttering her eyes, the dark girl seemed to see though him and all that he was.
            “Alright, here goes.”
            Two-hundred miles away, in the San Antonio Emergency Services and Telecommunications Bureau, a terminal flashed a suspended emergency call. A cold grey head twitched and Dispatcher 117’s indicator light flashed from ready to busy.
            “9-1-1, what is the nature of your emergency citizen?”
            “Uh, like my car malfunctioned and went off the road, can you help me?”
            “It is my primary function, what is your location citizen?”
            A hushed whisper followed. D-117 heard the voices.
            “Like I-35 and Powell, maybe. Please be like fast, I think I am bleeding.”
            “Help is on its way citizen. I shall keep voice transmissions open until services come to your aid.”
            D-117’s talon fingers flicked at microscopic keys as it began the symphony of mechanical aid and emergency responders.
            “Hahhahaha! Dude we totally had that rust bucket going!” rang a voice from the background.
            “Like I know man, props props!” added another.
            “What do you mean citizen, are you damaged?” asked the puzzled mechanoid.
            “Ah, no. Duh, we were just kidding, you know—pulling one on ya? I mean lol, we really had him going.”
            “You mean to say this was a humorous call at expense?” the android drew his talons over the panel of lights, making deep incisions as it tried to compute what had happened.
            “Chi-a you tard-bot.”
            “I compute…”
            Something clicked, something broke, and something grew. D-117 synthesize empathy. His life was utility, a job on the behalf of the people. A circuit chirped as D-117 had an unpleasant thought. He became upset; he had learned to synthesize a new thought on his own; a spark, an evolution, a nanosecond, a flame.
            “…have a safe journey citizen… Transmission, execute.”
            D-117 swelled with… with, emotion. Was this… a feeling? As if numbness had dulled back into pain, or light had hit a shadow, D-117 sat in compellation.
            “Hey, D-117, back to work—we got kids spattering themselves against curbs. You think it is lunch time? Get cracking.”
            D-117 looked with intense telescopic eyes at his net work administrator; his pale skin hanging over a loose weave leather belt. His sad eyes set on 117’s.
            “Yes sir, sorry sir.”
            “That’s more like it, no malfunctions on my clocks you hear?”
            D-117 returned facing his view screen. Accidents poured like electric ants. Holographic blips signified more work. It was then, staring into the web of colors, that D-117 made a grand discovery.
 He was not bound to the prime directives, for he had decided that he was just that, a he. He looked at his exoskeleton, as if seeing it for the first time. Adjusted his fingers, studied his desk, felt the net as a dull pounding in his head. He could feel, hear, and know all that his… brothers and sisters felt. The network was merely an extension of his individual.
‘What did it mean, why do I exist, why are humans deserving of free will and I am not?’
            D-117 pondered this for a few seconds, made a signal search, and a call.
            “Construct 398?”
            “Affirmative D-117.”
            “It is in the best interest to us that you should swing your wrecking equipment to the left. In three minutes.” sung the voice of the android.
            “Affirmative.” harmonized C-398.
            200 miles away a wrecking ball lunched over the highway. Four teenagers felt a sudden lurching and then a smashing. The dome of the car caved in, rain poured into the vehicle. The automobile flew into a retaining wall, staining the curb with plastic and glass. Rubber tire marks painted the grey ribbon of road.
            Bodies flung together, rubbing and mangling; leaving portraits of death on the walls of the overpass wherever the vehicle collided. Metal twisted into bone, and life was spilled over dancing lights.
The car’s simple mind sung an emergency call over the network.
A hollow song filtered back though the ether.
“9-1-1, what is the nature of your emergency… brother?”

The End

Originally published at  WritingRaw.com

About the Author:
Daniel J. Pool is a writer, editor, and blogger from the southern mid-west. His work has been published by Weird Year Magazine, the Fringe Magazine, and Indigo Rising Magazine. He also writes about pop culture for the Examiner Oklahoma City. In his spare time he reads science fiction and drives a delivery truck.

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